This article was published prior to Drew Drechsel’s arrest. NBC and American Ninja Warrior have since cut ties with him.
Get ready for something you’ve never seen before, American Ninja Warrior fans. We went into the season 11 finale with 21 competitors to cheer on, much more than ever before. However, Stage Three is infamous for its unrelenting difficulty. In all the seasons that have come before, only two Ninjas have ever beaten Stage Three, Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten.
Adding to the anticipation of the night was the knowledge that we WOULD have a million dollar winner this season. This made every run more nail-biting. Was this our champion? Was this our Stage Four climber? In the end, we got a face off between two of the strongest Ninjas the show has seen and the final moments were completely unforgettable.
By the numbers:
- Course completions: 2
- Ninjas taken out by the Ultimate Cliffhanger: 5
- Ninjas taken out by the Pipe Dream: 3
- Grip and Tip
- Iron Summit
- Crazy Clocks
- Ultimate Cliffhanger
- Pipe Dream
- Cane Lane
- Flying Bar
- No time limit
- Ryan Stratis, the last standing OG Ninja of the season, made his first visit to America’s Stage Three. He’s experienced it in international competitions, but not on his home turf. His run showed us Grip and Tip, which is inspired by the Battering Ram. The Iron Summit is a scary mix of the Iron Maiden and Northwest Passage where Ninjas need to bring the handles with them. It looked like Ryan had it, but he was suddenly in the water. Even he looked surprised.
- Michael Torres is having just a killer season as the only Ninja with a Safety Pass to NOT use it. He’s one of the Chicago-area Ninjas that feel unstoppable this year. Michael took his time on the Iron Summit and beat the obstacle. The Crazy Clocks are usually quite difficult and Michael was able to make quick work of them. Then it was time for the Ultimate Cliffhanger, always Stage Three’s most notorious challenge. Michael made the big transfer, which left us screaming when he then missed the dismount.
He might look young, but don’t let Michael Torres fool you. He’s got strength! pic.twitter.com/wZJnJO9Ff4— Ninja Warrior (@ninjawarrior) September 17, 2019
- Chris DiGangi was the next to go out on the Ultimate Cliffhanger, but what a year overall for him!
- Ethan Swanson was the last of the Chicago-area competitors. He took a controlled approach on the Iron Summit (which was in part inspired by Brett Sims’ creation for the Obstacle Design Challenge). After the Crazy Clocks, Ethan picked up considerable speed on the Ultimate Cliffhanger. So we were shocked once again when he also didn’t make the dismount.
- Hunter Guerard stuck the big transfer on the Ultimate Cliffhanger, but baffled us with another missed dismount!
- It’s almost impossible not to have a soft spot for Lucas Reale. In just his second year on the show, he was on Stage Three and doing it for his dad who passed away in 2015. His father’s death played a huge role in prompting Lucas’ Ninja Warrior training. He took a slow and technical approach to Stage Three. On the Ultimate Cliffhanger, we almost closed our eyes when he went for the dismount, but he landed it! Lucas exploded with excitement as the first through the obstacle. His next challenge was the new Pipe Dream. To cross it, Ninjas must traverse between sets of thin pipes to thicker ones that drop a bit with the Ninjas’ weight. Lucas slid looow on the first pipe he reached, which wasn’t an auspicious start. Without every getting comfortable, Lucas was soon out on the Pipe Dream.
- No other Ninja has visited Stage Three more times than Joe Moravsky. This would be his fifth time trying for coveted buzzer that unlocks Stage Four. He had no plans of wasting energy and moved swiftly through the obstacles. Joe was safely through the Ultimate Cliffhanger but he began investigating his hands, revealing a bleeding rip. However, he powered into the Pipe Dream. Handling the drops, he was soon on to Cane Lane. It looked like Joe had the transfer on this obstacle, but he hit the water. A slow-mo replay showed he landed on the wrong side of the support bar.
- In just his second year on the show, R.J. Roman was on Stage Three. His run ended on the Iron Summit.
- Up next was season 10’s Last Ninja Standing, Drew Drechsel. This year has been pretty amazing for him, including the Mega Wall, Speed Pass, Safety Pass, and impending fatherhood. But is this THE year for him? He’s been working towards Stage Four for nine years. So much work has gone into this.
He was locked in on Stage Three. Drew gently completed the Iron Summit with a great time. He quickly visualized his moves for the Ultimate Cliffhanger before diving in. He moved so efficiently through the obstacle. On Pipe Dream, he landed high and stayed high, a smart tactic. Arriving at Cane Lane tied him with Joe Moravsky. Landing the last transfer and reaching over to Cane Lane put him ahead. Staying SO in control, Drew stared down the final obstacle, The Flying Bars. He was closer to his dream than ever before. His girlfriend, April, almost couldn’t watch anymore as the anticipation built. Drew lowered himself onto the first cradle and after one, two, three, FOUR successful transfers, he shook his head and smiled, finally hitting the buzzer.
Drew broke down in tears at the moment. We all knew what it meant. It meant we were going back to Stage Four for the first time since season seven and Drew was in the running for $1 million.
But we’re not done yet...
- Tyler Gillett made it through the Ultimate Cliffhanger, but then ended his run on Cane Lane.
- Karsten Williams looked super confident at the starting line. After all, this was his best season ever already. After doing well on the first three obstacles, he nailed the transfer on the Ultimate Cliffhanger. Trouble started when Karsten landed awkwardly on the wall before the Pipe Dream. It tilted backwards and didn’t give him the best start on the obstacle. It may have contributed to ending his year on the obstacle.
- Tyler Smith BARELY survived the Ultimate Cliffhanger dismount. He then fell on the Pipe Dream.
- At 19, rookie Seth Rogers is the youngest competitor to ever take on Stage Three. Not too shabby! His climbing background made Iron Summit easy work for him. However, he had a VERY close catch on the Crazy Clocks. We thought the Ultimate Cliffhanger would be right in his wheelhouse, but he also almost lost it on the dismount. The Pipe Dream proved tricky. Seth landed low on a pole and climbed up to gain traction. He mapped a route through the obstacle but still almost lost his lower body into the water on the first pole’s drop. After taking a lot of rests, he gritted through to the safety bar between obstacles. But Seth was too tapped for Cane Lane, falling there. What a way to start a Ninja career!
That’s one small step for Seth, one giant leap for Ninja kind! pic.twitter.com/qjvM2Q6HNS— Ninja Warrior (@ninjawarrior) September 17, 2019
- Nate Burkhalter had recovered from his food poisoning but he was out on Iron Summit.
- Casey Suchocki fell from the Ultimate Cliffhanger.
- Kevin Carbone made a strong run to Cane Lane, but ended his season there.
- Mathis ‘Kid’ Owhadi used his Safety Pass to advance through Stage Two and that experience stayed with him. Barclay Stockett stood on the sidelines, reminding him to breathe. Mathis worked his way to the Ultimate Cliffhanger and made the tricky transfer. But in a perfect series of bad events, he placed one hand on top of the other while his body was swaying back and forth. Without a solid grip, he peeled off and into the water.
- Karson Voiles pulled off some great saves on the Pipe Dream but didn’t pass Cane Lane.
- Adam Rayl only made his Ninja Warrior debut three years ago, but he wanted Stage Four. His mom might not survive the stress of seeing him get there though. Adam quickly made his way to the Ultimate Cliffhanger and had zero trouble with the dismount. His gymnast form was on display as he moved through Pipe Dream. He tore into Cane Lane, making us a little worried about how fast he was going. Adam landed that transfer and suddenly looked exhausted, losing his grip on the cane and sliding down. He made a grab for the landing rail that would have allowed him to start The Flying Bars, but couldn’t hold on. Shortly after, he was in the water.
(It is interesting to note that grabbing the landing bar between obstacles even for a second triggered the completion of Cane Lane. Which means that technically, Adam’s run is considered ended at the Flying Bars.)
- Josh Salinas has reached Stage Two for all three of his three years. This was his first Stage Three visit, and it ended quickly and shockingly on the Grip and Tip, the first obstacle.
- The last Stage Three runner was Daniel Gil, another Ninja having a season to remember. He’d taken the top spots in the Oklahoma City Qualifiers, Finals, and Stage Two. Was he going to force a climb off on Stage Four?
Oh yes, he was. Daniel smiled casually all the way through the course. He did seem to almost fall during the Iron Summit dismount and laughed off the moment. Daniel breezed through the Ultimate Cliffhanger and was just SO good on Pipe Dream. He may have had the smoothest transfers of the night on Cane Lane. And yes, he was still smiling at that point, happy to be enjoying the experience. Daniel grasped the bar of the last obstacle and focused on his transfers. With that, Daniel Gil added his name to the very short list of Stage Three finishers and prepared to face Stage Four... with Drew Drechsel by his side.
- 30 seconds for a grueling 75-foot rope climb up the final tower
It’s thrilling enough to even be back here! In season seven, Geoff Britten climbed the tower first, meaning Isaac Caldiero went second, knowing the time he needed to beat. Daniel Gil actually completed Stage Three ONE second faster than Drew Drechsel, meaning Daniel got to pick the climbing order. He smartly opted for the second climb, trying to gain that knowledge advantage.
This was the moment Drew had waited almost a decade for. As the start buzzer sounded, he tore up the rope using only his arms at first. Fairly quickly, Drew locked his legs on to the rope. We were reminded just how quickly 30 seconds flies by as the warning siren started with still a ways left for him to climb. Drew never gave up and slammed that ultimate buzzer with just 0:2.54 left on the clock. A great climb, but was it enough to take the title?
Daniel stepped into position knowing he had a lot of work ahead of him. At the starting sound, he took off absolutely flying, using his feet on the rope right away. Daniel was simply destroying this climb and for a second, we thought we knew who the winner was. Suddenly, Daniel’s gas tank was empty and he slowed dramatically. It dawned on everyone watching at the same moment: He wasn’t going to make it. After all that fight, Daniel timed out without hitting the buzzer within 30 seconds.
AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR CHAMPION: DREW DRECHSEL
It’s a thrill to type those words. Drew collapsed at the top of the tower as he realized his time would hold up. He hugged Daniel and they approached the railing together, looking down at the history they made.
This was a year Drew would never, ever forget. April looked pretty darn happy about it, too.
This season’s champion sat down with us shortly after his win for the American Ninja Warrior podcast. Listen as he tries to capture what it feels like to make your dreams come true.
Thanks for an incredible season!